Text for the Week: Love Protects and Delivers

Scripture: John 3:16-21

16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

Theme- God so loved the world… But the world doesn’t love.

Questions

  1. Who is represented in the term “the World” and what does it mean that God loves this group?
  2. What does it mean that the Son didn’t Judge the world and how does that contrast with salvation?
  3. What does it mean to “believe in the name of the Son”?
  4. How does one love the light and how does one love the darkness?
  5. How do all of these metaphors work together to clarify the meaning of the Son and salvation?

Helpful Information

Related Texts: Num. 21:4-9, Is. 9:2, Jn. 12:44-50, Rom. 5:8, 1 Jn. 4:9-10

Nicodemus was a representative model of the Jewish people someone who stands in for the whole people, how he views Jesus is a lens through which we can see how Jesus’ contemporaries would have understood him.

Verse 16 represents the first occurrence of “love” in the gospel.

“Eternal” only occurs in conjunction with “life” in John and denotes quality of life not the quantity of life.

“The love of God, therefore, cannot be portrayed as abstract or vague, for in and through Jesus it is the most personal, the most “fleshly” attribute known of God.”[1]

While in English “judge” or “judgement” (verse 17) can be positive or negative depending on the circumstances, in John’s Gospel “judgement” is always negative and means condemnation.

In verse 16, “belief” seems to be connected to both Jesus’ being lifted up and his role as savior. A person is to believe Jesus has been raised up like the bronze serpent in Numbers 21 and this will provide healing.

The problem is many people prefer to remain shrouded in darkness rather than stepping into the light Jesus offers.

Reflection

                John 3:16 is without a doubt the most widely known Bible verse in modern America, I imagine most of the 330,000,000 people in our nation could recite it. This fact alone makes it more difficult for me to meditate on John 3:11-21, because my tendency is to think about the tropes of our society and not about what the verses are meant to teach me. But as I approached John 3 this week I was struck by the contrast between God and “the world”, of course I am hardly the first person to think about this dichotomy. But the first contrast is between the object of “love”, God loves the world while the world loves darkness. Darkness in John is meant in opposition to God, Jesus is the light and thus darkness is the space not occupied by Jesus. Notice how the world is unconcerned with God, it’s affections are described as pointed to things other than God, while God’s concern an affection is drawn toward the world. John is telling us that God is actively working for the good of those who have no concern for God. To paraphrase the great teacher John Chrysostom, think about the infinite God, completely good in all respects, focused on the frail creatures that are humans, while they are fixated on the wrong things. God is not worried simply about the people who already accepted, in John’s words, the light, God was concerned for the people who walked in darkness.

                God was so concerned with the state of those individuals walking in and loving the darkness that God became incarnate. The beauty of this love is that God is willing to sit with the people who do not love God rather love the antithesis of God, and bring them to salvation. God so desires the salvation of the people who love darkness that God walks among them bringing healing.

This is who he “loved.” For God did not give a servant, or an angel or even an archangel “but his only begotten Son.” And yet no one would show such anxiety even for his own child as God did for his ungrateful servants. –John Chrysostom[2]

Further, it is not like this was necessarily the only way for humanity to be restored to God, but it was perhaps the most intimate.

Not that he was unable to save us in another way, but in this way it was possible to show us his abundant love abundantly, namely, by bringing us near to him by the death of his Son. If he had anything more dear to him, he would have given it to us, in order that by it our race might be his. Isaac of Nineveh[3]

John paints this picture of a loving God who intentionally chose the most intimate way of connecting with even the most rebellious of humanity. Not only this but God’s Son does not even judge those who are most integrated in the darkness. Condemnation is a better word than judgment and combined with the imagery taken from Numbers 21, John wants us to picture ourselves and all humanity as people tormented by the viper’s venom. Jesus does not ask how you came to be infected, nor does Jesus require you to heal yourself. Rather, like Moses lifting up the serpent provided healing for anyone who looked on it, so to Jesus provides salvation for anyone who will turn their eyes to him. The only condemnation that is mentioned in this passage is reserved for those who are unwilling to see the healing brought by the light of the world (Jesus) and instead maintain their commitment to the darkness. The call of the Gospel is to recognize the lengths to which God is willing to go to bring us healing and relationship and to respond to this by letting the light of God’s love bring us true healing.


[1] Edward Kirk. “John” ZEC (kindle) 5919.

[2] Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 1–10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 125.

[3] Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 1–10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 126.

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